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Dear Pam, I am requesting your help with regards to a wonderful baby Grey I have who is now about ten months old. She is a gentle, kind accepting bird and is generally a joy to have.

My first question is I believe that she is a Congo AG, She is very large with HUGE feet and a neck that elevates to Giraffe proprtions when anything alarms or interests her!! My first question is her feathers are so soft at the moment and will these change very dramatically when she gets older? My second concern is I have been told that there is a period known as the "Terrible Two's" when birds change dramatically, this is causing me concern as I don't want to lose the gentle girl I have. What would you recommend I do and should I start exerting more control over her now so she knows who is in control.

Thank you for any help

Answered by Pam Clark:

Dear Debra, Thank you so much for your patience as you have awaited my reply. Unfortunately, circumstances have prevented me from being able to respond until now in the detail that your wonderful question deserves. Your baby Grey is exceptionally lucky to be in the hands of someone like you who seeks to prevent problems, rather than wait to get help until they occur.

First, the size of her feet and the extent to which she extends her neck when alarmed are not reliable indicators for judging whether she is a Congo Grey or not. There are small Congo Greys and large Timneh Greys. If her tail is bright red and her beak is black, then she is a Congo. If her tail is maroon and her beak is horn-colored, then she is a Timneh.

The fact that her feathers are soft reflects the fact that she has been well-nourished. The diet a parrot eats dictates the quality of the plumage. The best way to keep her feathers soft is to make sure that you feed her the most appropriate diet. A seed mix is a poor diet for any parrot, so if she is currently eating a seed mix as a staple, you will want to teach her to eat a better quality diet.

African Greys have higher needs for protein and fat than many other parrot species. The easiest way to make sure that she is eating a well-balanced diet is to make sure that at least 30% to 70% of what she consumes is a good-quality formulated diet. I feed my own Greys the Harrison’s High Potency pellet, since this has been formulated with their nutritional needs in mind. The protein content in this pellet is 18% and the fat content is 15%. If you feed a different pelleted diet, with lower protein and fat content, you can supplement with other foods to raise the levels slightly. To supplement protein, you can offer a one-inch square piece of scrambled egg or well-cooked chicken or fish a couple of times a week. The fat content can be elevated by providing a few nuts as training treats. Too much protein or fat can be a problem also, however, so supplementation should be done in moderation. In addition, she should have a certain percentage of her diet as live, raw vegetables and fruits. It’s important to feed more vegetables than fruits, however. If you would like more information on diet, you can read the article “Feeding the Companion Parrot.” The two-part article “Grey Matters” provides information specifically about African Greys. Both of these are posted at

In regards to your behavior concerns, I can state absolutely that there is no truth to the myth that parrots go through any period called the “Terrible Twos.” It can be true that older parrots can be less compliant than young birds, but this does not have to be the case. Generally speaking, the best way to avoid problems with a parrot as she grows into adulthood are to: (1) avoid allowing the parrot to form a pair bond with you, (2) make sure that all her needs (physical, social, mental) are met, and (3) that you provide clear communication about what you want her to do and then plenty of positive reinforcement for complying with your requests.

Regarding #1: The goal with a young parrot must be to teach her to play independently and to keep herself busy. While it is very comforting to have a parrot on your shoulder, this is to be avoided for two important reasons. First, it will lead to the development of a pair bond with you. Once such a pair bond has formed, she will reject other people and will seek to be with you more and more, gradually losing her independent play skills. Second, while she is on your shoulder, she is not learning anything else. She is only learning to be dependent. Thus, it is important to encourage her to enjoy a variety of perching sites and to interact with toys and foraging opportunities in those locations. She should not be perched on your shoulder or lap for any longer than 5 minutes once or twice a day.

Regarding #2: One pitfall in keeping parrots is the tendency to focus only on their social needs. Social relationships are only one of the many needs she has. Others include regular bathing, excellent nutrition, learning opportunities, adequate rest, annual veterinary visits (if you have access to an avian vet), fresh air and sunshine, foraging opportunities, exercise, the ability to be out of her cage for at least 3 to 4 hours a day and to move around to different perches throughout the day, and a sense of safety and security. Thus, as you guide her toward adulthood, you will need to make sure that all of these needs are met.

This may mean that you have to teach her some of these living skills. For example, if she does not yet enjoy bathing, you will need to implement a desensitization plan to teach her that this can be a pleasant experience. If she does not keep herself busy, you will need to introduce a wide variety of interesting toys and foraging opportunities and then provide her with plenty of praise for interacting with them. If there is something in the environment that frequently scares her, then this should be eliminated if possible.

One of the most important things you can do in this area is to make sure that she has plenty of learning opportunities. I suggest that you purchase the training DVDs that Barbara Heidenreich has produced. These can be found at I suggest that you acquire the DVD called “Parrot Behavior and Training” first, as well as her latest 3-disc set that has an entire training workshop on it. Training some simple behaviors, such as targeting and turning around on cue, is a wonderful way to provide enrichment to a companion parrot. It also satisfies their need to learn new things.

Regarding #3: There is no room in a relationship between a human and a parrot for concepts such as control or dominance. Embracing such concepts will lead to interactions in which you choose to use coercion and other behavior approaches that will result in a lack of trust in her towards you. The best way to keep her as sweet as she is now is to learn how behavior works and then to guide her behavior using positive reinforcement.

The truth is that all creatures behave in order to get what they want. A human will not continue to work at a difficult job unless she receives a pay check. A dog will not come when called unless he anticipates that good things will happen when he does. A parrot will not continue to step-up if there is not some “pay check” present in the experience for her.

Many parrots develop problem behaviors simply because the owner reacts when the behavior is performed, and this social attention can be a powerful reinforcer. I recommend that you get into the habit of asking yourself continually, “What am I teaching her right now?” If she makes a noise that you don’t enjoy, then this must be ignored completely. If she talks, and this is something you want her to do more frequently, then you should respond immediately with a “Good girl!” and then the speedy delivery of a favorite, but small, food treat.

Therefore, the best way to maintain compliance in a parrot is to make sure that you reward all desirable behaviors, especially all “cued” behaviors. This means that every time she steps onto your hand when you ask her to, she immediately receives some reward that she finds of value. This might be a food treat, such as a small piece of walnut or a sunflower seed. It could also be a head scratch or a small foot toy. Watch her carefully to figure out what she likes the best and then use that. Try also to have a variety of rewards, so that she does not get bored with the same one. Further, stepping down off of your hand should also receive a reward, and every time she goes back into her cage, she should get a highly valued treat. Every time you ask her to do something, she should receive some form of reinforcement.

Following these guidelines will produce a happy, healthy, well-rounded, and compliant parrot. Moreover, she will choose happily to cooperate with you and you will never have to worry about maintaining “control.” Thanks for such a wonderful opportunity to discuss problem prevention!

Warmest regards,
Pamela Clark, CVT

filed under: Behaviour and Training

I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I am wondering if seashells are save to give me African brown head to play with. I noticed one of the toys in his pen has seashells attached to it. I collected some from the beach, and I was wondering if they are cleaned off properly if they can be used for toys. Thanks for your help!


Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Vicky, Seashells are usually safe for parrots. In fact, ground or crushed seashells are used in some calcium supplements. As long as the shells are thoroughly cleaned, they should be safe to give your bird.

I always recommend observing your bird at play to make sure he is not eating any toys or shells. Most parrots simply chew toys to bits, but occasionally one will actually swallow those bits. Needless to say, that is dangerous for the bird!

Have fun and thanks for the great question, Vicky.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Pam, I am having great difficulty in trying to introduce a new baby African Grey into my home with my two year old Grey. My first AG is very hyper active, constantly leaning forward with wings spread, as if wanting to fly, his eyes are always dilated and his general attitude is not relaxed. I am not sure but he received a bad wing clip which left him falling and hurting himself a couple of times and it was after this that his personality changed. His diet is Harrisons pellets with fruit and veg, My new AG is about 8 months old, she is a female and very much the opposite of my first bird. She is steady and gently and allows me to handle her all over with great ease. My first grey loves me very much but has always suddenly bitten me without any reason and has generally been a difficult bird since a baby. My concerns are the new baby is now becoming very scared of my first grey as he constantly wants to attack her. Every chance he gets he will run over to her cage and try to bite the cage or get to her. I immediately intervene but get bitten badly also. I do not want to rehome my first grey but may have to do so if I cannot get him to accept the baby grey or at least calm down a little. Someone suggested Dr Bachs Rescue Remedy for a start and allowing the bad wing clip to grow through but I would really appreciate any expert guidance I can get in this very distressing situation I am now experiencing.

Many thanks

Answered by Pam Clark:

Dear Debra,
Thanks so much for your question and for using the WPT “Ask the Expert” feature. I congratulate you for seeking a solution so quickly to what sounds like a very distressing situation for all concerned. I am quite sure that these two Greys can learn to live comfortably in your home, and I encourage you to have some patience with your older African Grey until you can implement the ideas offered below.

Without more detail about the two birds in question, I will have to make some guesses about what might be causing your older Grey’s behavior, as well as what the best ideas will be for solving the problem. Please feel free to implement what appears to be best suited to your own unique circumstances.

From your description of your older Grey’s body language, it appears that he may be a parrot who has relatively high anxiety levels. Anxious or nervous Greys will frequently display the “wide-eyed” appearance that you describe. They will also stand up quite tall, with feathers slicked down and held closely to the body. They often startle easily, and do also display the behavior you describe of leaning forward with wings spread and quivering. His sudden biting is also consistent with this problem. His earlier too-short wing clip and resulting falls lend credence to the idea that he is a relatively anxious Grey. This type of early beginning frequently results in this residual problem behavior. I always feel a great deal of compassion for birds who have started life with this disability.

Therefore, the first part of your solution will be to help your older Grey to relax. It isn’t within the scope of this response to describe all the many ways that stress reduction can be accomplished with a parrot. However, you may find an article I wrote on the subject, titled “Stress Reduction for Companion Parrots,” at This may give you some usable ideas for helping him to calm down. Obviously, if he is more relaxed, this will help him to accept your new Grey’s presence in the household. It is possible that the Bach Flower Rescue Remedy may help him if placed in his drinking water, but this will be only the beginning of the solution for him.

Your older Grey’s anxious behavior is a result of learning. He learned that he had reason to be afraid because of his sudden falls. You will see his behavior return to a more “normal” state when he has a chance to learn that his world is a safe place. The article referenced above will help you with this goal.

It’s too bad that we can’t just ask him why he is behaving so aggressively toward your baby Grey. However, in the absence of an explanation from him, we can make some guesses based upon his behavior. His aggression toward your new Grey indicates that he does, in some way, consider her a threat. Therefore, this previously frightened parrot now feels even more threatened due to the presence of his new roommate.

I would not despair at this point, though. I have lived with a great many African Greys and, generally speaking, they usually learn to appreciate the presence of other Greys in the home. I feel confident that your older Grey can learn to enjoy his younger “sister” over time, but this will need to be a learning experience.

It is important that you separate their cages by enough distance that he cannot run over to attack her. My usual advice is to separate parrot cages by at least five to six feet. Parrots, by virtue of their intelligence and sensitivity, tend to have “big” personalities. They usually appreciate having some space around them, rather than having another parrot (especially one they don’t know well) very close to them. By separating the cages, he will feel less threatened by her presence and she will feel protected from him. That way, they can get to know each other from afar and will have a better chance of being friends in the future.

Next, try to enrich his life in the present. Have things changed for him since your baby Grey came home? Does he get less attention than he did before? Might he sense your frustration with him for his behavior toward her? See if you can’t give him a little more attention each day, introduce a new activity or give him some toys or projects that he can stay busy with. By giving him other things to think about he may settle down and be less focused on her. If he is afraid of new things, see if you can’t create some small projects for him that we might readily accept. A wonderful resource for such ideas is Kris Porter’s website Lastly, try to find a sense of compassion towards him. He wants to be happy and successful in your home. He just had some early experiences that make this more of a challenge for him than it is for your younger Grey who did not suffer the trauma of a too-short wing trim.

The above changes will help to ease the current stress between the two birds. However, the real solution will come about when your older Grey learns that this new addition to the household means that good things happen for him because of proximity to her. Figure out what type of treat he really loves. Try to find an item that isn’t a part of his usual diet. Greys usually like best any foods that are high in fat. Perhaps a bit of cream cheese on a spoon? Maybe sunflower seeds or bits of nuts? Once you’ve identified a training treat, then begin to use the following exercise on a daily basis. This should be begun only after you’ve moved their cages further apart.

Have your older Grey step onto your hand (at a time when he is not likely to bite you) and then take just one step toward your younger Grey. Hold him so that he can see her, talk to him about her, praise him for going closer to her, and then when his body language is relaxed and shows no signs of aggression, give him the treat and return him to his cage. Do this several times until you can step him up, take a step toward her and he shows no signs of distress. Give him a treat every time.

Once you have accomplished this initial exercise, then begin to move closer to her, always making progress in very small increments. Next, hold him and take two steps toward her, offering him the treat when you see his body language relax. After several successful sessions at that distance, then move three steps toward her. Continue in this regard until you can walk all the way up to her cage with your older Grey on your hand, and with him showing no signs of concern. Your keys to success will be the following: (1) don’t proceed too quickly through these steps (try for many repetitions at each distance), (2) only give him the treat when his body language is relaxed on your hand (you don’t want to reward any aggressive body language), and (3) completely ignore at all times any signs of aggression in him toward her (unless there is direct physical threat to her).

By the time you have implemented this behavior modification plan for several weeks, you should begin to see a change in your older Grey’s behavior toward the younger bird. However, even if you see a complete absence of aggressive behavior towards her, I would still encourage you to keep them apart. They should each always have their own cage and their own play stands or alternate perches. Just because they are the same species, does not guarantee that they will become good friends. However, you should all be able to live peacefully and happily in your home together. And, who knows? Perhaps they will surprise us and learn to interact happily with each other, if given enough time to get to know each other.

Warm regards and good luck!
Pamela Clark, CVT

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear EB, My aviary is in 6 sections all open. It measures 35 metres. The 17 parakeets use all the space. The parrots less so.

I have 2 pairs of rescue small birds - Plumheaded parakeets, a male aged 4 and a female 1, and Kakarikis both one years old. If they try want to breed next year will I have to separate them from the others. If so which month? The Rock Pebbler Parakeets that are housed there have bred twice with no problems.

Thank you.

Regards, Dot in UK

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Dot, 'Tis not easy to flatly answer your question as I do not know the birds personally and observation usually tells whether certain pairs in a mixed colony will disrupt breeding of themselves or other pairs.

That said, the species in question have been colony bred by others in the past (Kakarikis less so...) and are basically decent candidates for success in your large spaces.

The rule is usually offer two or more extra nest boxes beyond your number of pairs to lessen fighting over spots. If several pairs all want the same box, just take it down and put it elsewhere or exchange it for a different one.

If you are very careful about the entrance holes for each of the boxes, you can eliminate the larger parrots from getting inside the smaller openings. Some Kakarikis prefer tight entrances or tube-like passages to a box.

Food dishes too, should be non-competitive and extra for the number of pairs or else the greedier birds will fly from one to another getting all the best and fattiest foods.

Once compatibility is established and the birds feed without aggressive competition, the most dangerous time is when new peeps are heard in a box. Other more curious and excitable birds could enter the newly hatched clutch site and endanger babies. You will have to be diligent in watching out for same.

Of course, actual production of babies is not always the goal in such situations; more so, is the enjoyment the pairs get of copulating, inter-feeding, laying, hatching and such over the weeks of the season, so I would say, give it a try and keep notes. It will certainly teach you a lot about your pairs, and may make the content for a future magazine article.

Cheers, EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

My Question: My male military macaw is becoming sexually mature. One odd behavior I've noticed is that when I am allopreening him, (I try to avoid any deliberate arousal), he now opens his beak and works his tongue in a very specific way, which he never did in the past.

I know that the flehmen response is specific to some mammals, (although many more animals, including snakes, use the vomeronasal organ to locate mates). This is the closest thing I can think of in terms of behavior.

I saw an intriguing reference to male mallards' changing their reproductive behavior when their olfactory nerves were sectioned, but I've never read anything that specifically relates to the behavior I'm seeing.

Any thoughts about this? I never see him doing it when he isn't in more or less direct contact with me, but he isn't touching me with his beak or anything.

Nancy Sullivan

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Nancy! My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc. Steve forwarded me your question about your Military macaw, and we'd be happy to offer our thoughts.

When parrots in the wild are in the process of allopreening, there are often a number of other behaviors that seem to occur at the same time. These are sometimes referred to as "comfort behaviors", and include things like scratching, yawning, and stretching. Companion parrots often exhibit the same sorts of behaviors when they are being preened by their owners, and from what you've described our best guess is that what you're seeing is yawning. It doesn't sound like what your seeing is reproductively related, and it is possible that while the behavior was originally triggered by the stimulation of the preening itself, the "yawning" behavior may now be displayed more frequently either because the behavior itself is pleasurable for the bird, or because there is reinforcing value in whatever reaction he gets from you when the behavior is displayed. In speaking with Steve, he mentioned that he has most often seen this sort of behavior when a bird is scratched near the ears, so we'd be curious to know if the behavior is most noticeable when the preening occurs in this area.

Hope this information is helpful!

Chris Jenkins
Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear Phoebe, My Blue-fronted Amazon parrots live in a double-glazed conservatory. It has two doors, two windows, two skylights and the sides and roof are glass. I would be grateful if you would advise me about combining both temperature and humidity to keep my parrots comfortable. Both winter and summers weathers create different problems. During the summer the temperature is hotter inside the conservatory than outside. This year it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit causing dryness and low humidity. In the winter I keep the conservatory at 50 degrees Fahrenheit but I am unsure what temperature combined with humidity would protect the birds from a chill. The heating used is economy seven electric radiators and oil filled radiator. The heating dries the room, causing low humidity.

Please would you advise me what methods can be used to increase or decrease humidity?

I hope you are able to help resolve this problem.
Thank you, Sara Mylam

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Sara, Thanks for writing World Parrot Trust and for your desire to provide optimal environments for your Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva).

First, I recommend that you immerse yourself in knowledge of wild Blue-fronted Amazon’s habitats.

Read everything you can, including all the info and links on Including

"Nesting success and hatching survival of the Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil"

We studied the reproductive biology of a population of Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul State, Brazil, between 1997 and 1999. Nesting occurred from August to December. We monitored 94 nests, which were found in trees of different sizes. Nesting trees were distributed in all major vegetation associations (floodplains, grasslands, scrub savanna, savanna, arboreal savanna, riparian forests, and pastures). (emphasis mine, pgl)

I find this research fascinating and hope you do, too, because it gives us vast amounts of inspiration as we provide optimal habitats for our flocks. Now that we know that wild Blue-fronted Amazons live and nest in "all major vegetation associations," we can build habitats commensurate with their physiology.

Congratulations on the conservatory – we have one, too – a glass enclosed building, double-paned. It’s a space dedicated to parrots and people sharing, but it’s not inherently a “friendly” parrot environment. Modifications are needed, or so I’ve found. Additionally, it can be arid here in Santa Barbara, so, like you, I deal with issues of heat, humidity and sunlight.

We added retractable awnings to the outdoor roof of our conservatory and these are key. Decadent, I know, but pushing that button and having those awnings go out over the roof really helps the parrots’ environment stay viable. We also have an indoor sprinkler system, which was easy to install and is simple to use. On hot days, it’s a godsend.

With all the glass in the room, it can become weirdly reflective, so I use bamboo, rattan or other chewable mats which strategically drape and are affixed over cage sides and tops to allow for privacy and visual rest from windows and other forms of stimulation. Some of our parrots have three such shields: One or two on cage top, depending on how the sun at its brightest hits the cage; another on the side, depending on individual preference. So please, Sara, check your parrots and their cages / enclosures at various times throughout the day and provide full-body shade whenever they desire.

These natural fiber mats serve not only as privacy panels, but also as moisture holders and dispersers. Sprayed with water, moistened mats will cool the room for hours. Easily removable and cleanable, I find mats indispensable. If they get dirty, they get scrubbed, dried and re-used.

Additionally, we use three or more outdoor decorative movable screens that we simply prop against the windows where the sun hits hardest (this varies by season, of course) to cut down intensity. These cool the room considerably. Every day, as much as possible, I open the windows so that real natural sunlight and humidity enters the room.

On hot days, we open the windows plus drape thick wet towels on the outdoor screens. Now air entering the room is moist and cool.

Indoor plants with lots of foliage inside the room are beneficial water-retainers. Keep the area right outside the room also well hydrated with plants that provide shade, moisture, interest and loveliness. Potted plants can work – just be sure they are tall and robust enough to provide shade. Keep these areas hydrated and keep the windows open so the parrots have at least part of a sun-lit environment, too. Drenched plants, mats and screens, inspire parrots to get drenched, too.

Get-a-Grips (sold in WPT on-line store) by Star Bird, are perfect companions to hot rooms because they, too, can be sprayed down. The moisture released throughout the day helps reduce aridity. Our parrots and parrot room would be greatly impoverished without our Get-A-Grips.

Do use and maintain clean cool air humidifiers, too. I’ve found that reverse-osmosis (RO) water (available at stores that sell saltwater fish) keeps humidifiers clean and running great. I think 85oF is not too hot for Blue-fronted Amazons as long as the air is gently moving, humid and moist. Healthy parrots can also easily live in 50oF.

Finally, don’t stress too much about all but the most drastic extremes. Scientists tell us that wild Blue-fronted Amazons inhabit a variety of habitats. Encourage a fully realized relationship between you and your flock so that you are all tuned in to each other's levels of comfort, camaraderie and companionship. Stay open to signals from your parrots on what they like and use, where they go during different times of the day, and so forth. Keep tweaking the environment to make it better and better for them.

Last but not least, encourage your Blue-fronted Amazons to love bathing and showering. If you provide multiple water bowls or large shallow bowls (8 x 11 glass baking pans work) and they learn to get silly and wet in it, that’s great! Lots of showers, misting, water bowl bathing, plant leaf bathing – yay! That way, if you’re stuck in traffic on a hot day, your parrots can be having a blast in their water bowls.

All best, Phoebe Greene Linden and flock

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hi Dr. Cook, One of my cockatiels has been "picking" at her back - an area right between her wing couplings - for about 3 months now. If left to it, she will chew until it bleeds. She is not plucking feathers, just chewing on the down and then the skin underneath.

It seems to bother her most in the evenings. Both our cockatiels (no other pets or children in the house) get plenty of attention and have lots to do during the day, foraging, playing with toys, being out in their aviary, etc. They also eat very well, with a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits in their diets, and get plenty of sleep. They don't bathe as often as I would like, but we manage it every couple of weeks or so. We run a humidifier in their sleeping room during the day and try to keep it up around 45%. (They are about a year and a half old.)

I have taken her to our local avian vet, who ran some tests to look for infections and inspected her for lice and mites, but found none. He was puzzled because she otherwise seemed in good health.

He advised there could be a myriad of explanations - many of them difficult to diagnose - and suggested it might be behavioural, so we have been doing our best to interrupt her activity. He also warned to watch how we do so, as we might be reinforcing the behaviour.

We have tried applying aloe to the area, but it only seemed to make her do it more so we stopped.

After observing her for some time, I began to wonder if perhaps it was an allergy, and have taken all wheat products out of her diet. It has been 4 weeks now and I have seen no changes in the behaviour, and I am wondering just how long I should wait to get it completely out of her system. Both our birds do so enjoy their (whole wheat) bread and pasta treats, and I hated taking it away, but will do so if that turns out to be the culprit.

Can you make any suggestions as to a reasonable time? Thank you so much for your insights!


Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Michelle, Thanks for the great question! I have a 'tiel we rescued at my clinic that did the same thing as your bird; with proper diet and medication, her symptoms resolved in about three months, so there is hope for your bird.

This type of self-injurious behavior seen in cockatiels is often a symptom of physical disease. Food allergies would be much less likely to cause these symptoms, so I would allow your birds to have wheat again. A varied diet with a base of at least 70% pellets is best for parrots. Frequent bathing is essential for birds with feather issues, as this encourages normal preening. I recommend bathing or misting daily with plain, lukewarm water. I also advocate supplementation of the diet with omega-3,-6 fatty acids and natural sunlight at least three times weekly, plus a program of positive reinforcement to teach behaviors (such as tricks) to refocus the bird from self-injurious behavior.

Your avian veterinarian has wisely ruled out external parasites. I also recommend checking for internal parasites (such as Giardia), a complete blood count and chemistry profile and possibly a viral panel.

Good luck with your 'tiel!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My husband and I have adopted a galerita cockatoo, a goffin's cockatoo and a jandaya conure, all of whom were in various states of disrepair. To provide sunlight and exercise, we are building a small 8' X 10' (8' in height) outdoor aviary. The entire aviary will be wire meshed on the inside and screened on the outside with a wire mesh floor covered with crusher dust. We have a few questions and would be very thankful for some help.

1. We have fire ants here in Valrico, Florida. Does anyone have advice on how to keep them out of the aviary?

2. We were advised that we should roof the entire aviary (not leaving an open area for sun and rain) because of a disease transmitted through opossum droppings. Since the aviary will be small and only 8' tall, it is entirely possible that a possum could climb onto the top. We had hoped to have open areas for sun and rain, but we do not want to endanger the birds.
Any advice?

3. We had also hoped to provide an area for foraging in dirt and grasses, but were advised not to do this since soil could harbor harmful parasites or fungus. We were planning on building a raised, tiered foraging area planted with grasses and millets. Can you please advise us?

Unfortunately, the three birds each came from homes where they were isolated and never socialized with other birds, so they will be taking turns in the aviary. We are exicited about this project and hope you can provide some advice. Thank you very much.

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Peggy and Jay, You have some very good questions. I’ll see if I can answer them. I too live in Florida and have an outdoor structure for my birds, so I think I have some insight on your issues.

As far as the fire ants, they are a problem, and I don’t like using the baits and insecticides around my birds. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) seems to be the best non toxic solution. There are also some bio solutions in the form of beneficial nematodes available, which I haven’t tried, and don’t know that I would, depending on what they are.

Diatomaceous earth is formed from the skeletal remains of the algae Bacillariophyceae and is in the form of an abrasive silica dust. When an insect comes in contact with the razor-sharp edges of these particles it causes abrasions, resulting in the loss of body fluids and ultimately death. DE works well as a protective barrier against many insects. It’s now being sold as an insecticide in most major hardware-chains and in many cases is mixed with a pyrethrin. It can be expensive, and I don’t like the fact they are mixing it with something completely unnecessary. The best way to purchase it is to leave the pesticide department and walk around to the pool department. DE is used extensively in pool filters and can be purchased in large boxes for next to nothing.

The disease you are referring to that may be transmitted through opossum droppings is sarcocystis, which is actually a protozoa. There is a whole chain of events that has to take place in the right order for this to happen, but it is somewhat common in Florida.

Since your enclosure is covered with screen on the outside, I don’t see too much of a problem. The screen would catch any droppings. Make sure that any water bowls or food bowls are not directly below any of the open area. The protozoa can be spread by cockroaches, which have injested the feces too. If that’s the ultimate threat covering the entire roof isn’t going to solve the problem, and I don’t know of much that will accept maybe the DE barrier mentioned above.

What I recommend is that the walls of the structure have a 2-foot tall kick-plate around the whole perimeter at the bottom of the walls. If the screen goes to the ground you are going to have a lot more problems with mice, rats, raccoons, and stray cats chewing or tearing through the screen than you are going to have with opossums. In my area I have to also be aware of bobcats, and here lately, a stray black bear or two. If you have a screen door for entry into the enclosure the installer can easily dismantle the door and add a taller kick-plate to the door than what comes in it. I have found through experience that a 2-foot kick plate will stop almost all mice and rats. At the rail that the top of the kick-plate is attached to you will need to add a commercially available electric fence using plastic isolators. The combination of the kick-plate and the electric fence around the top of the kick-plate will keep everything out as well as from climbing the walls to gain access to the roof. Trim back any branches that overhang the structure and could allow access by dropping down from the branches. If you don’t like the thought of using an electric fence there are motion activated sprinklers available that are made to deter most anything of the size of a squirrel on up. They are called scarecrow sprinklers. They move very quickly and do scare off most anything. They are not sensitive enough for the mice and rats, so you will still need the kick-plate.

The foraging area is difficult. Parasites and nematodes are everywhere in the soil in Florida, so I don’t know that you can be assured that any way you go about it is going to be 100% safe. First off what ever you do have your parrots de-wormed prior to putting them in the enclosure. Your foraging area is only going to be as parasite free as your birds.

My cages actually go to the ground, so I had a similar issue. What I have done is put a layer of commercial grade weed cloth down. I then covered it in a layer of crushed concrete, which should be completely void of parasites and nematodes just because of what it is. I then put a thick layer of crushed oyster/clam shell down as something natural for my birds to walk around on that is safe even if they chew on it. It’s available all over Florida where bulk garden covering and ground covers are sold. Once I put it down I rented a steam cleaner and pressure washed it with steam to both remove any remaining soil that may be trapped in the shells and to also sterilize it as best as I could.

I think you could take this one step farther and go with another layer of weed cloth on top of the crushed shell and then cover that with a very thick layer sterilized compost or garden soil. Good quality garden soil should have been heat treated to kill off any nematodes. You could then plant your grass and millet. Make sure that when you are building your frame for this area that you don’t use treated lumber.

Keep in mind that wild birds come in contact with all these things your are trying to protect your birds from. I understand your concerns and intentions. I have taken many steps in a similar direction. The best protection you can give your birds is a healthy diet and habitat to encourage a strong immune system. Sunlight, rain, and fresh air play a big roll in doing so. Take advantage of what you have to offer that so many who live in other regions cannot offer to their parrots.

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

My Question: Hi There, I am trying to get some clarity on some nutrition issues.

1) I know well that a lot of sunflower is not good, but there seems to be a big move totally against sunflower.(my birds get about 10-15% of their diet as sunflower.) Is this move totally against sunflower just the "in" thing, or is there good research behind it?

2) Vegetables are seen as more beneficial than fruit, but i have never seen a wild parrot or a photo of one eating vegetables. Fruit, grains, nuts, blossoms and bark, yes, but never vegetables. why are vegetables preferred for captive birds, is it to compensate for foods missing in a captive diet, or do captive birds just not need the quick energy boost fruit provides as much as wild birds, or is it something else?

3) What is your opinion on palm oil? (apart from the fact that parrot habitat is destroyed to create space for the palm plantations.) I do feed pellets, but I don't like diets of pellets only.


Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Bruce, thanks for your questions.

First off I think we need to understand that we can’t feed a captive parrot in the same manner that a parrot would feed in the wild. Captive parrots don’t have the same caloric requirements because they don’t forage long distances for food and are really, in the best of circumstances, sedate as compared to free flying parrots. Moreover we need to consider that there are vast differences in the foods that wild parrots eat, generally determined by their geographical location, and we simply don’t have access to many of those foods. We need to consider that many captive parrots don’t have the same access to natural light and fresh air, which plays into their dietary requirements, as compared to their wild counterparts. That brings me to the very important point that there are big differences in the nutritional requirements of a parrot and the dietary requirements of an individual captive parrot. Husbandry practices play a big role in what your parrot needs to eat to reach its optimal nutritional health, which is based on much more than what species of parrot it is. You need to work your particular husbandry practices into the equation. Even the average temperature in a given situation can result in different dietary requirements of a captive parrot. Parrots kept in cool places will need more fat in their diets than parrots kept in a warmer environment. As temperatures fall a parrot's metabolism speeds up to burn more fat to keep it warm. As temperatures rise a parrot's metabolism slows down because it doesn't need to burn as much fat to stay warm. As a result, parrots kept in cooler environments will generally eat more food and in doing so also take in more nutrient because of the higher intake. Parrots kept in a warmer environment will not eat as much and may not be taking in enough nutrient if the diet is not nutrient concentrated. For example, a Moluccan Cockatoo kept indoors in New York will have notably different dietary requirements than a Moluccan Cockatoo kept in an outdoor aviary in Florida in order to reach the same level of nutritional health. These two circumstances present dramatic differences in exposure to natural light, fresh air, and average temperature, which individually or collectively will vary the dietary needs of a captive parrot.

I am sure we could do a better job at looking at some of their natural foods and trying to emulate the amino acid and fatty acid profiles, and other nutrient levels contained in those foods, yet keep the overall percentage of fat to a minimum as required by most captive parrots. When you do think about the expansive differences in diets wild parrots eat around the world it really is a wonder that we have come as far as we have in such a short time with minimal research as compared to commercial livestock and poultry. The best an individual can do is try to provide a base diet to meet known nutrient requirements for parrots in general, while keeping in mind the parameters and/or limitations of their husbandry practices, and then educate themselves on what their particular parrot needs that’s different.

The push against sunflower seed has been around for decades, and I think there are a lot of motives. I am sure the safflower industry would rather see you feeding your birds safflower. I also think the pelleted diet industry would rather see you feeding your birds pellets rather than any kind of seed.

There are a few of things I believe do have relevance in the argument. One is the high fat content of sunflower seed. On average a dried sunflower seed is about 36% fat. Another issue is that sunflower seed, as well as many of the other seed in parrot seed mixes and peanuts, go rancid rapidly and can be a perfect medium for growing aspergillus, which is a species of mold. Rancidity can result in a whole list of issues that may or may not fall under the label of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are mycotoxins or toxic chemical byproducts of molds. Alfatoxins are amoung the most carcinogenic substances known to man. Aspergillus is ubiquitous, but can infect parrots, especially a compromised parrot. Aspergillus infections are generally secondary to other health, dietary, or husbandry issues. Aspergillus is extremely difficult to treat even when caught early. Last but not least, in order to try and give our captive parrots the broadest spectrum of fatty acids as possible the fat in their diets needs to come from a variety of foods which should have different fatty acid profiles. If we are using seed mixes, even in the smallest amounts, the fatty acid profile is most likely very limited. A variety of nuts can provide a much better source of fat.

Referring back to points made in the first paragraph, vegetables in a captive parrot’s diet provide a much broader spectrum of nutrients than fruits. Fruits are mainly water and sugar with some vitamins and minerals, vitamin C being one most likely found. Since healthy parrots produce vitamin C in their gut supplementation is generally not necessary; although, may be beneficial for young, growing, or compromised parrots. Personally, I don’t think berries get enough inclusion in the captive parrot diet, as they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.

Palm oils are one of those foods we should look at that can provide some of the complex fatty acid profiles wild parrots consume in order to better feed our captive parrots. You need to be very careful of the source though. All fats are prone to rancidity if not properly stored. Fatty acids are very heat sensitive, so the manner in which the palm oil is stored and in which your parrot eats it plays into the equation. Using palm oils in cooked bird breads and muffins most likely does a lot of damage to the nutrients you are trying to provide in using them in the first place. I am fortunate enough to have access to fresh palm nuts, and I think it is the best way to get palm oil into your parrot. Another observation is that you generally see wild parrots eating palm fruit when it’s still green, prior to ripening, and the nutritional make up may be significantly different than the completely ripe palm fruit currently found on the market for parrot consumption and used to make most of the palm oils readily available today.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

We have a mold problem in our bathroom in our home We been advised to uses a product called Sporicidin to treat the wood sub-floor. The main ingredient is phenol. The birds we be relocated while the product is being used. Our question is can the Sporicidin out gas in the future can be any harm to our birds once the product is dried. If phenol is not safe to use around our birds, what product do you recommend if the Sporicidin isn't safe to use?

Lori A. Buch

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Lori- Phenol is an excellent disinfectant, but the fumes from it can be quite harmful to our companion parrots. While using this compound, I recommend removing the birds from the premises for several hours. When the Sporicidin is completely dry, ventilate the house well (fans/open windows) before returning the birds. Good luck!

Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Last week, my eight year old sun conure, Rainbow, recently laid two eggs. I am a first-time parrot owner, and we'd always assumed she was a male, so this was surprising for her human flock-members. But more pertinently: the eggs were soft--they crumpled. Clearly, there were some issues with what I was feeding her! She's always had access to a wide variety of fresh veggies and fruits, cooked food, seeds, and pellets. But I note now how she really favored the seed, and favored the safflower seeds in the mix over everything else. She has remained healthy, active, hungry, and

Here's what I've done:
-- consulted an avian vet, who kindly explained the cause of the soft eggs, but said that unless she was sitting on the bottom of her cage, fluffed up and immobile, I needn't bring her in. Sheesh.
-- constructed a nest with dummy eggs and the ones she laid. She has little interest in the nest; her only interaction with it was to cover the eggs with nesting material. She does not sit in the nest or attend to it; I plan to remove it in a few weeks after the usual incubation period has elapsed.
-- began adding Quiko daily multivitamin to her water. She also has access to pure water; she prefers the multivitamin. Do you have a recommendation for a really high-quality supplement of this sort?
-- put 1/8 tsp. powdered bone meal in some of her warm foods, in addition to making sure her fresh diet has a better showing of calcium-rich foods: veggies like broccoli and collard greens; scrambled egg with shell; almonds and sesame seeds. But how much calcium is too much? Should I be feeding it in correlation with other foods that help with the absorption of it?
-- put her pellets and seeds in different dishes, so I can monitor what she's eating of what. Also, began offering only a small amount of seed once a day (but didn't want to cut that out all at once), to which she has responded by eating a larger variety of other foods.
-- changed the location and arrangement of her cage, and some of the toys
-- began covering her for the night earlier, so she's getting close to 12 hours light/12 hours dark
-- ceased to allow any regurgitation behaviors with me, her primary caregiver, and started emphasizing flock time with the whole family (which is a small little flock--just two humans and her!).

Perhaps as a result of these changes, perhaps not, she has ceased to lay eggs. With all that background in mind, here is my primary question: are these the appropriate things to be doing for her right now?

Also, what is a really good resource for information on the species-specific sun conure diet? I am curious about the digestive system, and the reproductive system, of these marvelous creatures who are so
different from, well, mammals. In short, I¹d like to learn more about psittacine physiology and health, but don't know where to start. What should I read?


Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Thanks for this great and timely question! Spring time often, with increased daylight hours, increased reproductive activity in wild birds and the plentiful food we give our parrots, will stimulate egg-laying in our companion birds. I have had many a caregiver discover that their male parrot is, indeed, a female when they are surprised by an egg.

Egg laying is a tremendous metabolic drain on our parrots' bodies; they are not chickens! Plus, birds can develop serious reproductive and metabolic diseases from repeated egg-laying. You have already followed most of my recommendations for controlling this process with Rainbow. If 70% or more of the bird's diet is a high quality pelleted diet, I normally do not advise calcium or other supplementation, but always follow the specific recommendations of your bird's veterinarian. I prefer to supplement calcium with foods (as you are already doing) and not bone meal, so I do not worry about oversupplementation. Fresh foods fed are primarily sprouted seed and veggies, with smaller amounts of fruit. Seeds and nuts are less than 5% of the daily ration and are used only in teaching/training, only given by hand (not in the food bowl) as special treats. Reducing the fat levels in the diet, decreasing daylight hours and removing toys and/or petting which is sexually stimulating will generally reduce egg-laying. I advise removing the eggs as they are laid, especially with birds who show no interest in the eggs. Occasionally, it is better to leave eggs with those individual birds who sit on them.

With over 350 species of parrots in the world, there is obviously much to learn about specific dietary requirements. Much of the current information regarding psittacine nutrition is anecdotal and unreliable. Research is currently being done in several species. There are some excellent articles on health and nutrition in the World Parrot Trust's online reference library. Another reliable online resource is at

You have already done some good research; I applaud your willingness to provide the best care for Rainbow!
Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I’ve recently adopted a Blue Fronted Amazon named Bella. She’s 6 years old and from what I know of her history she’s been with two families, the first sold her because they had a baby and the second had her for 2 years and they were kind to her but didn’t know much about parrots. The woman was concerned as she couldn’t spend the time with her and noticed that she was getting quieter and non-active. That’s when I adopted her noticing right away that she has a slow wobble and cannot hang onto her perch properly. I have notice though that she can climb around the bars
really well so that’s reassuring. They said she’s always been this way but has gotten worse as she used to be able to hold food in her foot but not anymore as when she tries she starts wobbling and loses her balance; every time she walks it’s a huge effort for her. The previous owner noticed her getting depressed but I’m more concerned about her health and whether or not she’s going to live. I’ve made a vet appointment for a week from now because she’s eating (maybe not as much as she should) and drinking a bit so I don’t think it’s an emergency. I also want her to get used to her new place before putting her under added stress. This vet is not an avian specialist as I would prefer but I’ve heard he’s had some experience with parrots. I live in a small town and the closest Avian Vet is hours away, also they are extremely expensive which I cannot afford.

Have you heard or seen anything like this before in a parrot? I’m trying to search on Google but so far cannot piece together an answer. She also hasn’t vocalized much since I got her but it might be because she’s in new surroundings.

Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Starla- Thanks for adopting this parrot in need. I am quite concerned about her symptoms. The "wobbliness" could be caused by any number of problems from arthritis to cancer or anything in between. She really needs to be seen by an avian veterinarian as soon as possible.

Birds are masters at disguising symptoms of illness and sometimes a delay of even a day or two can be disastrous. Her best chance is to take her to a knowledgeable avian veterinarian now-tomorrow may be too late!

Good luck, keep us posted.

Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear EB, My parrot's beak seams to be splitting well part of it is coming off as though she chews on wood and breaks part of it. Is this natural or is this a vitamin deficiency? She gets vitamins in her water everyday, although she is still eating a parrot seed mixture as she wont eat fixed parrot food. She nibbles on some of the fixed parrot food but not steady yet. She also gets fresh fruit every day with fresh vegetables. Thanks in advance - Angela Barrett

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Angela, Ideally a veterinarian would answer this question. But I will give a try at offering what I have learned.

Parrot beaks grow from the base growth plate in layers, wearing off at the tip and being replenished from back and below. It is normal to have flaking and layers of keratin apparent, but too much dryness or brittleness indicate a metabolic problem. In most cases, the birds we have encountered were being fed an unbalanced diet which affected the bill indirectly.

Too much dryness as in extruded diets without sufficient omega fatty acids was one problem--often encountered in African species. Too much dry seed, especially of the safflower variety was another cause in smaller parrots.

We would begin giving such parrots a fresh raw, cooked and sprouted diet of pulses and buckwheat, lentils, mung beans, hemp seeds, etc, and adding some flax oil droplets or virgin olive oil drops onto the daily fare to increase oil intake. Vegetables are much more important than fruits, and you must make pieces small enough that the bird cannot just throw them out of a food bowl. Over a six week period, sometimes less, results would indicate a beak that became more malleable and shiny looking.

Increase amounts of nuts in the diet may help also. there is some evidence that dryness and beak problems could be related to liver function. Be sure the seeds that your bird gets are of highest quality--organic from the health food store if possible. Canary seed and spray millet are some of the best from the farm and pet store shelves.

Most vitamins that are added to drinking water are less effective than powdered vitamins sprinkled on wet food and fruits and veggies. Parrots drink minimal amounts of water to assimilate such vitamins, especially, should the vitamins make the water colored or change its taste appreciably. Also water tends to oxidize the additives and make them relatively useless after an hour or so, while any minerals settle to the bottom and are not consumed.

A small amount of high grade vitamin E squeezed from a capsule (200 iu) and gently rubbed on the beak offers a short term aid to serious flaking. Humidity in the environment should be increased, slightly, especially in the case of Eclectus, Amazons, Pionus, etc.

When you ask a question, it really helps to give the species, age and gender of your bird so that a more informative answer may be given.

I hope a vet can expound upon this rather subjective reply, so that you and all readers may benefit.

With aloha, EBC

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hi, My latest information from WWF is that Carnaby's Black Cockatoo in South Western Australia is in trouble with recent fires and extreme weather causing many deaths. This endangered parrot is in danger of being wiped out. Do you have any new information on this situation?
Rachel Cassidy

Answered by WPT Administrator:

Hi Rachel, thank you for your great question! We've asked Birds Australia to comment, as they have has an ongoing conservation program for the birds for many years. Here is the reply we received from Cheryl Gole, Manager, Important Bird Areas Project - Birds Australia

"...Despite the fact that a number of Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos have been killed or injured in severe weather events in the last few months, the species is not highly localized, so the impact on the species as a whole was not immediately critical. Across its range, the species is declining; it has disappeared from approximately one third of its historic range.

Birds Australia WA initiated a Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo Recovery Project in 2001 and, in one form or another, the project has continued ever since. Some, but not all, of the project history and current action is captured on the Birds Australia WA website here:

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo is a south west Australia endemic. Two other south west endemic parrot species (full species, not sub-species) are also under threat: Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo is now listed as Vulnerable under Australian Government legislation. Western Ground Parrot, formerly thought to be a sub-species, is now recognized as one of Australia’s most endangered birds. Not yet listed under the Australian Government’s EPBC Act, it is listed under Western Australian State legislation as Critically Endangered..."

We expect to receive additional details soon and will post the information here upon our receipt.

Many thanks again,
Best, Steve Milpacher - WPT Webmaster

filed under: Conservation

Hi! I need advice, My husband gave me an Australian King Parrot about a year ago and he appears to be fine, but this morning I found him dead, What are the possibilities of death by temperature changes, he was inside the house and the room temperature was 72F, my husband said that he needed to be in a higher temperature setting.

Thank you

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Nancy, I am sorry for the loss of your parrot. Unfortunately, due to birds' phenomenal ability to disguise symptoms of illness, we see far too many sudden, unexplained deaths in our companion parrots. Often, birds can have advanced disease and still be eating, active and appear perfectly normal. The only way to diagnose the possible cause of death in your bird is for a qualified avian veterinarian to perform a necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy).

A normal, healthy parrot can live in far cooler temperatures because their down feathers provide excellent insulation. In fact, birds can better tolerate lower rather than higher environmental temperatures. I keep my birds in 60-65F temperature and this is what I recommend to my clients. If a bird is sick, they do need to be kept warmer. I would guess that being too cold was NOT the cause of your bird's death.

I recommend to my clients that they weigh their parrots weekly: a 5% drop in weight is enough to be cause for concern. I also stress the importance of an annual physical examination as a way to prevent or diagnose disease before it becomes too serious.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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